Caring for your newborn
Everything you'll ever need to know about holding, changing, feeding, winding and bathing your newborn.
Latching Latching your baby onto the nipple correctly is the first step in breastfeeding successfully. Your baby must take not only the nipple, but a good mouthful of the areola (the dark circle surrounding the nipple) into her mouth. Rub your nipple against her lips to make her open her mouth wide. Quickly bring her in towards your breast. The nipple should go right to the back of her mouth. Don’t worry about her being able to breathe – newborn babies will detach if unable to breathe.
Comfort Wanting to be held most of the time is a normal need for your baby. Cuddling her will often stop the crying. Keeping her in a sling or pouch is the most efficient way of dealing with this as your hands will be free to get on with other things. Efficient wrapping or swaddling is magically soothing to some babies. The idea is to wrap her up snugly so that she moves as one complete bundle.
Cord care For the first day or so after your baby is born, the clamp that fastens her umbilical cord is left on. Your doctor of midwife will remove it before you’re discharged from hospital. The cord will shrivel and fall off in about 7 to 10 days.
Until then, keep it as dry as possible. Dry it well after her bath and let it air. Clean the cord at each nappy change by swabbing thoroughly with a cotton wool bud or swab and surgical spirits. Fold baby’s nappy below the stump so that it is exposed to air and not to urine. Remember that the stump of the cord is not painful because it has no nerve supply. If pus forms or there is a bad smell consult your doctor.
Ears Ears are self-cleaning and ear wax is a natural secretion. Never put in anything in your baby’s ear: apart from the danger of piercing the eardrum, you could just push wax further into the ear until it blocks up. To clean the ear, wipe the outside of the ear with a moist piece of cotton wool. Make sure you don’t miss the spot behind the ear as this is where spilt milk can collect. When washing baby’s hair, block the ears with your thumb and middle finger. See your doctor if there’s a profuse or bad smelling discharge from the ear. The eardrum may have ruptured and your baby may need medication.
Eyes For the first 2 or 3 months clean your baby’s eyelids regularly. Wipe her eyes with cotton wool and cooled, boiled water, sweeping from inside out. Wipe the upper eyelid and then the lower eyelid with a clean piece of cotton wool, to avoid spreading any infection. Use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye. From three months you can start to use a face cloth for your baby’s face and eyes. Babies often wake up with crusty eyes, but this is generally not cause for concern. If she has a discharge from the eye, she may have a blocked tear duct. Massage the tear-duct at the inner corner of the eye gently with clean fingers. If baby’s eyes are sticky, red, the lids are swollen and the discharge is yellowish, you can try cleaning the eyes with a little expressed breastmilk on cotton wool balls or gauze squares. Breastmilk has anti-bacterial properties that often relieve mild eye infections. Contact your doctor if there’s no improvement.
Hunger This is the most common cause of crying, and the cure is milk. A tiny baby can’t wait for a feed – if she’s hungry, she wants it now. It’s perfectly normal for a newborn to need to feed every hour or so for the first 6 weeks. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have enough milk or that she’s “naughty”! Bathing or changing her when she is hungry will annoy her and she may work herself up into such a state that she is unable to suck.
Nails Cut baby’s nails after a warm bath, when they’re soft
. It’s important to keep your baby’s nails short because babies wave their arms and hands around and can easily scratch and cut their own delicate skin. The fingernails tend to grow quickly and may need to be trimmed as often as once a week. The main challenge is to keep a squirming baby still to avoid any mishaps. Toenails usually don’t need cutting at all until your baby is a few months old. It’s safer to use baby nail scissors with rounded tips. Get into a comfortable position that allows you easy access to your baby’s hands. This may mean placing your baby in your lap, or even waiting until she’s asleep. If she really puts up a fight, get your partner to hold her down while you gently trim her nails.
Nose There’s no need to follow a specific cleansing routine. But some babies are very snuffly and have difficulty feeding or wake up because of dry membranes from mouth breathing. Insert one or two drops of saline into each nostril to loosen any mucous or try homeopathic nasal drops and creams. You can also tickle your baby’s nostrils with a tissue to induce a bout of sneezing. Usually a wipe with a piece of damp cotton wool will suffice. If your baby has a snotty nose, use the corner of a folded tissue to gently ease it out. Don’t use ear buds because they tend to push everything further up the nostril.
Over-stimulation Loud noises, bright lights, excessive tickling and bouncing, and being handed from person to person are too much for a new baby. Keep things quiet and calm, and she will probably be calmer too. Moving from a sleepy state to sound sleep can be difficult for small babies. An overtired baby may become overactive. Keep your home as calm as you can to encourage adequate sleep, but make sure you differentiate between night and day. Trying to “cheer up” a tired and overstimulated baby will only make things worse.
Water Warm water induces rest in many people and is well worth trying if your baby is restless. Bath with your baby as this is a great way to soothe and bond at the same time. You may even want to breastfeed in the bath.
Swaddling Many babies wake themselves up with their own jerky movements, which makes them cry. Swaddling her in a receiving blanket reminds her of the womb and will help settle her.
Tummy aches Wind is often a culprit. Practise your burping skills. A newborn has delicate skin and playing pass-the-baby can make a newborn sore and uncomfortable. A bath that’s a little too hot or a nappy that’s a bit too tight might elicit heartbreaking cries.
Winding To prevent messy clean-ups when your baby vomits or possits, you might want to place a towel or bib under his chin or on your shoulder. Each baby is different, so experiment to find out which burping position works best for both you and your baby.
Here are three popular methods to try:
- Sit upright and hold your baby against your chest. Your baby’s chin should rest on your shoulder as you support his head and back with one hand. With the other hand, gently pat or rub his back
- Hold your baby sitting up, in your lap, facing to one side. Support his chest and head with one hand, and use the other hand to pat, or rub his back gently
- Lay your baby on your lap with his tummy downwards. Support his head and make sure it’s higher than his chest. Gently rub his back.
Picking up and putting down This can be a bit scary at first, but there’s really only one thing to remember – you need to support your baby’s head and neck for the first few months. Babies are not quite as fragile as they look, and as soon as you get the hang of supporting her head when you move her about, you’ll be quite comfortable with picking her up and carrying her around.
Here’s how to get started: Talk to your baby in a soothing voice when you move her. Sudden movements may startle your baby, pick her up gently and slowly and lift her, holding her close to your body. Make sure her head is supported, then transfer her to either your shoulder or the crook of your elbow. When putting her down, support her neck and head and with your other hand under her bottom, gently lower her down. Gently slide your hand from under underneath. Using this hand, lift her head slightly and remove your other hand. Tip: Use a sling, carrier or pouch to hold your baby close your chest, while leaving your hands free.
Holding As you spend your first days and weeks together as a family, enjoy getting to know your new baby. Stroke her soft skin and her downy hair. Lie with her on your chest. Savour the feeling of carrying your little bundle in your arms. Touch is sometimes called the language of love, and at no time is this truer than when you are getting to know your newborn baby. Scientific studies bear out what we know instinctively – that being touched is a deep human need, with real benefits.
Why you should hold your baby: Your baby will identify you as “the mommy” quicker. Babies who are held more, are more secure and will cry less frequently and for shorter periods. They usually sleep better and are less stressed on waking. Premature babies gain weight more rapidly if held, which is why Kangaroo Care, where the mother “wears” the baby between her breasts, skin-to-skin, has proven so successful. Also:
- Your heartbeat is a familiar sound and a natural comforter
- Your breastmilk letdown reflex comes in sooner
- This re-inforces the bond of mother and child; you will realise, “this is my baby”
- You will begin to see your baby as an integral part of you
- Your body will heal faster and post labour recovery is more rapid.
Undressing New parents may assume it’s their own bumbling that makes babies cry when being changed, but many babies simply don’t like the cold. They are not used to having their naked bodies out in the open. She should stop crying when she is warm and dressed.
Topping and tailing Your baby doesn’t even have to have a full bath. Here’s how to top ‘n tail him between baths. You’ll need:
- a basin of cooled, boiled water
- baby soap, wash or aqueous cream
- a face cloth
- cotton wool swabs
All of a baby’s orifices are lined with mucous membranes which are designed to bring out any dirt. There’s no need to poke bits of cotton wool up the nose, clean the ears with cotton buds or trying to pull back your little boy’s foreskin. Just wipe away what you can see on the outside. Follow Penelope Leach’s principle: Never interfere with any part not visible from the outside.
- Undress baby and wrap him in a warm towel on his changing mat
- Squeeze cotton wool in the cooled, boiled water and wipe baby’s eyes gently from the inner corner outwards. To prevent spreading infection from one eye to the other, use two separate pieces of cotton wool, one for each eye
- Gently wipe all around the face with the face cloth or cotton wool. Lift his chin up or place him in a position where it is easy to reach the folds of skin under the chin and gently wipe. Dry gently but thoroughly
- Wipe behind his ears as regurgitated milk can pool there. Dry the area
- Raise each arm separately and wipe the armpit carefully as folds of skin rub together here and can become sore. Again, dry thoroughly
- Be sure to wash under and around your baby boy’s penis and testicles
- Wash your baby girl’s bottom from the genital area to the anus - so as not to risk infection
- Dry your baby well, apply barrier cream to his bottom, and put on his nappy and clothes.
Changing nappies You’ll be doing a lot of this in the months to come, and you’ll soon be a dab hand at it. The trick with nappy changing is to have everything you need ready beforehand.
Changing a disposable nappy:
- Open the nappy with the tapes at the top. Lift your baby by his ankles and slide the nappy under him until the top edges align with his waist
- Bring the front up, pointing a boy’s penis downwards so you don’t get a face full of wee
- Hold one corner in position and unpeel the tape with the other hand, pulling it forward to stick to the front plastic horizontal panel
- Do the same with the other side, making sure the nappy is snug but not too tight. Check the fit and if it is too loose unpeel the tapes and reposition them.
The art of folding a towelling nappy:
- Fold a nappy in four. Put the folded edges nearest you and to the left
- Pick up the top layer by the right hand corner and pull it out
- Make a triangle with all the edges meeting neatly at the top
- Turn the nappy over carefully and straighten the edges again
- Fold these layers over again to make a thick central panel
- Pick up the vertical edge and fold into the middle by one third.
- Put a disposable nappy liner on the thick central panel
Taking off the nappy: When you remove a dirty nappy, use the back of it to remove as much of the poo as possible. Then clean the nappy area with boiled, cooled water and cotton wool, and dry it well. Always clean a little girl from front to back to avoid spreading germs to the bladder area. Never pull a boy baby’s foreskin back. Tip: Babies can be quite squirmy, particularly as they get a bit older. Be quick and firm but gentle. Hang a mobile, or a small interesting toy, over the changing area to keep your baby entertained while changing.